It was with much anticipation that I wandered amiably up to the Hampstead Theatre for the promenade performance of Adelaide Road, the ambitious project from the RSC that leads the player down the London road of the same name with action interspersed with reality and games through intelligent use of technology. If you are one of the masses that can call themselves the proud owners of an iPhone you can download a free app for the duration of the performance that will create more and personal dynamics into the story.
Completely unlike a regular theatrical experience, promenade pieces promise a complete disintegration of the fourth wall and Adelaide Road certainly doesn’t disappoint. Based loosely on Shakespeare’s As You Like It. We had a guide in the twenty-first century fool Touchstone and the journey itself is cleverly constructed around the seven stages of man that Shakespeare had outlined himself. Following the themes of love and betrayal, we were introduced to various characters whose stories are interwoven in a typically Shakespearean way. As we learn more of their stories, whether from their telling us, shouting from across a road, or a letter given to us by the staff or through the iPhone app we learn of the dreams and hopes of people when they were younger and how their lives have circled around Adelaide Road.
The story is expertly woven by Aoife Mannix into a coherent and progressive plotline, with each stage of life along the road signaling the passing of time and the events that happen in the intervening time are revealed trough the stories that the characters tell us. The pace of the show is well developed and matches the speed at which the group is moved along the road by the chaperones. The way in which the stories of the characters intertwine is compelling and often surprising; characters spring out of nowhere with surprise relations to the others that you have already been introduced to and the finale brings it all together in a satisfyingly neat and typically Shakespearean knot.
The whole of the cast seem at home in the promenade format, particularly the mercurial talent of Miltos Yerolemou as the foolish guide through the concrete wilderness, Touchstone. His speeches had a rhythm all their own, a swift beat and a compelling rhyme that managed to settle as natural without seeming out of place. His lead through the piece was assumed and never questioned, his charisma being the driving force behind creating such an energetic and vibrant character.
There were no bad performances. The rest of the cast seemed in their element estranged from the stage with RSC stalwart Noma Dumezweni leading the fold. Her Alice was both vulnerable and childish while maintaining the hurt of the past and provided a wonderful counterbalance to the younger contributions from Demi Oyediran and Rachael Spence. The way their relationship progresses and engages the audience is delightful and moving, especially with the steady incorporation of Danny Scheinmann’s Joc into the mix as well. Everyone played their part marvelously, taking into account the hassles and tribulations of the real world such as traffic and pedestrians: very good indeed from all quarters.
The inclusion of the technological aspects worked very well indeed. The added interest created by the iPhone app gave not only another aspect of the performance that the participants could connect with but also a way for them to directly influence the show as well as having a personal and uniquely individual experience that can really affect them following the course of the action. The cards that are handed out periodically ensure that those without an aptitude for newfangled gadgetry are in no way experiencing an incomplete performance and add to the experience yet further. Every aspect of the show is carefully designed to push boundaries and destroy the fourth wall more thoroughly than the walls of Jericho, all of which are achieved.
My one criticism would be almost not the fault of the staff themselves but due to the nature of the piece it was necessary to keep the group moving at a steady pace along the predetermined route. However, the majority of the group were elderly or sporting prams or young children (don’t ask me why it’s appropriate to take children to any kind of theatre) but the result was that the group was moving slower than the staff clearly intended so they spent a lot of their time shouting at people and encouraging them to keep moving and this was a bit too much in the end. I can understand and appreciate the necessity of keeping the group together and moving people along safely and cogently from one stop to the next, allowing them their time to enjoy the experience that will for most be unique theatrically but it crossed the line over to invasive on a couple of occasions despite the best efforts of all involved. I say again, I don’t think it’s their fault but more the result of a large group of people unable to move with swift pacing and speed.
There isn’t much opportunity of exposing oneself to promenade theatre in London, or indeed anywhere, at the moment and if the nature of Adelaide Road is anything to go by then it is a form of theatre that has a future. That future may not be a mainstream feature of theatre but certainly a form that gives an added and different dynamic to the role of theatre and the way in which theatre informs reality, which is a necessary part of its existence as an art form. Highlighting the continuity between what you see on stage and what you see in real life in this way is a fantastic addition to the theatrical landscape and this was well worth the journey. Keep your eye out for any future developments along these lines and tag along if you can!
Written by Aoife Mannix; Directed by OlaAnimashawun; A promenade piece for the RSC; Starring Noma Dumezweni, Demi Oyediran, Danny Scheinmann, Rachael Spence, Miltos Yerolemou.
John Ord (14/05/11)